Skip to main content

Full text of "Mathematical And Physical Papers - Iii"

See other formats

[From the Transactions of the Cambridge Philosophical Society, Vol. ix., p. 399 (read Feb. 16 and March 15, 1852).]
WHEN a stream of polarized light is decomposed into two streams which, after having been modified in a slightly different manner, are reunited, the mixture is found to have acquired properties which are quite distinct from those of the original stream, and give rise to a number of curious and apparently complicated phenomena. These phenomena have now, however, through the labours of Young and Fresnel, been completely reduced to law, and embraced in a theory, the wonderful simplicity of which is such as to bear with it the stamp of truth. But when two polarized streams from different sources mix together, the mixture possesses properties intermediate between those of the original streams, and none of the curious phenomena depending upon the interference of polarized light are manifested. The properties of such mixtures form but an uninviting subject of investigation; and accordingly, though to a certain extent they are obvious, and must have forced themselves upon the attention of all who have paid any special attention to the physical theory of light, they do not seem hitherto to have been studied in detail.
Were the only object of such a study to enable us to calculate with greater facility the results obtained by means of certain complicated combinations, the subject might deservedly be deemed of small importance. For the object of the philosopher is not to complicate, but to simplify and analyze, so as to reduce phenomena to laws, which in their turn may be made the stepping-stones for ascending to a general theory which shall